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Friday, 16 October 2020

Guest Post: Grace O'Hara: Around The World in 10 Books

Feeling restless? Who could blame you. A jaunt around the world is well overdue but how can you quench your thirst for travel in this current climate? Easy with books of course! Today's special guest, Grace O'Hara shares ten books that will help you to travel the globe from home. Bon Voyage!

If you’ve had the privilege of travelling in your life, you’ll know the transformative effect it can have. Travelling helps us understand the world, understand how our version of normal compares to others. It’s also an opportunity to open up your senses to a world of new experiences.

Even though travel outside our borders is on hold for the time being, many of us are still feeling the itch to explore new places and expose our little ones to all the joy that travelling involves. But, fear not, along with a tonne of digital resources, there are some incredible stories to be found from around the world in children’s stories.

Here’s a list of some of my favourite ones, which not only transport you to different settings, but immerse you in local languages and folklore from around the world too. Ready? Our journey begins…


Heading straight up to our neighbours in the north, My Night In The Planetarium is about one boy’s overnight adventure in the Jakarta Planetarium. Based on the memories of author Innosanto Nagara, the story takes readers on a journey not just through one thrilling night, but through the recent history and culture of Indonesia. (Penguin Books)


Continuing our north-bound direction, we now turn to a beautiful book by Taiwanese-American author Grace Lin. Based in Chinese folklore, When The Sea Turned To Silver is a daring story of rescue which celebrates the tradition of storytelling. Following Pinmei as she sets forth to bring her grandmother home, and beautifully illustrated by Grace Lin herself, you’ll want to linger on each page and at the same time keep turning pages. (Little Brown and Company)


Crossing the East China Sea, we now arrive in Japan. Here, second generation Japanese-Canadian author, Chieri Uegaki, shares a story about the love between a girl and her grandfather in Ojiichan’s Gift. A story of hope, of difficult decisions and the importance of family, Ojichan’s Gift explores keeping traditions alive while everything around you is changing. (Kids Can Press)


Leaving the continent of Asia behind us for now, we land on the shores of Canada and head inland to the mountainous region of North Saskatchewan. When We Had Sled Dogs: A Story from the Trapline, is another book based on the memories of it’s co-author, Ida Tremblay. Ida is a First Nation Cree Elder from La Ronge, who shares what it was like when dog teams were a part of traditional life. Along with stunning illustrations by Miriam K├Ârner (co-author), I love that this book also weaves in indigenous language throughout too. (YNWP Publishing)


Heading South to find some warmer waters, we arrive on a mysterious island in Cuba where one girl is finding the courage to break all the rules. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Musicby American-Cuban poet, Margarita Engle, is the inspiring true life story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who broke Cuba's traditional taboo against female drummers. (HMH Books)


Continuing south to the big, beautiful and diverse Brazil, we find a story about a young boy helping to reignite his uncle’s passion for making beautiful clothes, in The Best Tailor in Pinbau├¬. Written and illustrated by Brazilian author, Eymard Toledo, and brought to life with beautiful collages and a sprinkling of Portuguese, this is a heartwarming story about never giving up. (Penguin Random House)


Crossing the South Atlantic Sea and the Gulf of Guinea, we now arrive in Nigeria, where mayhem is unfolding. Taking place on the eve before the New Yam festival, Chicken In The Kitchen is an adventure story by Nigerian-American author, Nnedi Okorafor about one girl’s determination to save the day. Beautifully illustrated by Iranian-born illustrator Mehrdokht Amini, this is a book full of laughs and surprises. (Lerner Books)


We now travel across the continent, to the north-east, until we come to Israel. Here we find a story about two neighbours learning to overcome their differences and help each other succeed. Yaffa and Fatima by author Fawzia Gilani-Williams and Italian illustrator Chiara Fedele, teaches us that differences aren’t a cause for conflict, but a strength that can help us work through any obstacle. (Lerner Books)

Heading south again to the Horn of Africa, we land in Kenya, where we find a young girl taking us on a journey through her life. From the city of Eldoret, to the rural farm of her grandmother, Lillian The Tiriki Girl by Kenyan author, Lillian Shirayra Mang’ong’o, and Puerto Rican illustrator Monica Paola Rodriguez, shows what it’s really like to grow up someplace else. A bonus is that money from each book sold goes into supporting local change in Kenya. (Small Fires Publishing)


Finally, because there’s really no place like home, and because Australia is so diverse itself, we return to our own shores and share a story from our own backyard. Finding Our Heart, A Story about the Uluru Statement for Young Australians by Thomas Mayor is a story about understanding Australia’s past so we can move toward a shared future. Thomas is a Torres Strait Islander man born on Larrakia country in Darwin, and his poignant book is brought to life by Dhungatti artist and illustrator, Blak Douglas.

 Finding Our Heart image courtesy of Hardie Grant Publishing]

I hope you enjoyed this whirlwind tour of the world through books. There are some wonderful resources online (like this one) to help you find more stories from every corner of the world. Just because we can’t physically experience other places right now, doesn’t mean we can’t help our little learners explore different cultures.

One thing to look out for (as you might’ve noticed from my selection) is to try and find books with authors from the place the story is about. Otherwise you’ll likely end up with an outsider’s perspective, rather than the inside scoop. Happy travels!

Grace O’Hara is the Founder of Small Fires Publishing, which makes books about the world in partnership with people from different countries. Each book sold goes back into supporting positive impact projects in the community they’re about. Find out more at: www.smallfires.co